Lance Armstrong’s triumph over cancer and fundraising efforts make him a valuable pitchman even after his status as one of the greatest cyclists in history is tarnished by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) decision to strip him of his championship titles, marketing experts say.
Nike Inc., the world’s largest sportswear maker and a long-time supporter of Mr. Armstrong, said it would stand by the 40-year-old American, who on Friday lost his seven Tour de France titles after he decided to stop fighting charges from the USADA that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors,” Nike said in a statement.
Trek Bicycle Corp., a leading bike maker, said it was monitoring the situation. The Wisconsin-based company has sponsored Mr. Armstrong since 1999 and sponsors the Radio Shack Nissan Trek team at the Tour de France.
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Armstrong’s other corporate sponsors, including RadioShack Corp., exercise bike maker Johnson Health Tech., sunglasses maker Oakley, owned by Italy’s Luxottica Group and Michelob, made by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA.
SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell said he does not think Mr. Armstrong’s sponsors will walk away unless it is proven that he has taken drugs. He has never failed a doping test.
Mr. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times in succession, has become an advocate for cancer research and awareness through the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Livestrong mission.
Since 2004, Nike has helped Livestrong raise over $100 million and created the Livestrong yellow wristband that became a global phenomenon with over 84 million bands distributed.
Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, said Mr. Armstrong’s extensive work on cancer has made him a hero to many, and will help blunt the impact of the lost titles.
“His story has not been diminished. Here’s a guy who essentially was at death’s door with cancer and came back. That example still makes him very compelling,” Mr. Boland said.
Still, Mr. Boland said it would be difficult for Mr. Armstrong to continue to endorse bicycles or bicycle equipment, since he is now banned from competitions.
“If he can’t show up at certain events, how do you use him?”
Mr. Armstrong has long denied that he used performance-enhancing drugs to help fuel his career, and maintained that position in a statement issued on Thursday.
He is a co-owner of Honey Stinger, a maker of energy bars and gels based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The company said it will continue working with him and will continue to support the Lance Armstrong Foundation.